Why It’s Hard To Break Into Comedy Clubs (For Some)

I hope everyone had a happy New Years.  Now it is time to get back at it.  With this one let’s talk about the difficulties of getting booked into comedy clubs.

If you think about it, comedy clubs are very unique.  Comedy is the one of the few performing arts that basically has its own space.  There is not a ballet bar, or a poem emporium.  This obviously means that if you want to ply your trade in stand-up this is one of the first places you would look. You would think it would be as simple as emailing the person who books talent at the club and if they see a use for you, then you are good to go.  Well, it is not that easy.  Let us talk about the simple fact that there is only so many comedy clubs in the country.  Sure some cities like Chicago and New York City have several, but a lot of places may have just one club, and that one club has between 48 to 52 weekends (depending on things like when holidays fall and such) in which to fill.  Most comedy shows have a MC, feature, and headliner.  So at most, a club needs three comedians a weekend.  Now I hope you see that there are a ton of people that have the capacity to fill these spots, so that makes comedy clubs sort of a gate keeper.  If they want to have people return, they want to put on the best show they can afford.  That means they have to be a little more picky then say the sardine factory that just needs to fill five canning positions.

Now the above tries to explain why its hard to get booked into comedy clubs on just a numbers aspect.  The thing is you have another hurdle, the booker.  There are men and women all across this country that book these shows and because they are human and have particular tastes, they will make decisions for a variety of reasons.  I have heard them all.  From just not that funny to you live too far away and we don’t want to house you.  Also because they are human, they are not immune from just grabbing what is nearby.  Why book a comedian for a show in Atlanta when they live in Portland?  Why not just look in your immediate vicinity.  Especially for features because there are a ton of people that can perform between 20-30 minutes of comedy.  It is less stress to know that most of your talent is in town.  That is why it is really hard to get booked as a MC or feature the farther away you look.  They can just grab a local comedian to MC and save money and hassle.  They don’t have to worry about comics changing their minds at the last minute because they can’t afford to come perform.  You also have to think about the booker and the amount of inquiries they receive on a day to day basis.  I can only imagine all the emails and packages they get from comedians that want to work their club.  They can’t possibly get to it all.  If you receive 200 emails a day, it will get to a point where you will ignore a ton of emails and base your decisions on what your peers are telling you.  Then there is just plain ole biases.  They may not like musical comedians, or comedians that wear hats on stage.  They won’t tell you this outright, but it could keep your from getting work from them.

Here is another thing.  Comedy clubs are businesses.  They are not non profits that are putting on comedy shows for the good of the community.  They are trying to get the audience to buy food and alcohol, and your quips about Tupperware is what is keeping them there.  These clubs are looking for people that can put asses in seats.  It is not so much how funny you can be, but an as of now undiscovered equation between funny and popular.  Why do you think your local club has that former porn star coming to town next week?  Because they are popular enough, and sometimes funny enough, to put asses in seats and make the club some money.  If you can’t offer them that, then it is hard to break in.  This is not so much a concern of MCs and feature acts because they are seen as younger, less experienced comedians, but headliners have to worry about this a lot.

So, how can you increase your chances you may ask.  Well, the thing you have to remember is persistence. You have to be able to accept that you will get turned down a lot and keep trying to get in contact with these clubs.  You will send out hundreds of emails and you may get one response back.  It’s important to know that you can not guess what is going on on the other side of email.  The booker may be ignoring emails.  They may be seeing it and not responding because you do not fit their place.  I will say this, if you got a response and they say no, then you should not keep sending them emails.  Accept the no and when you have a new headshot or new video for them to take a look at, then you should probably give it another try.  If they say contact again in six months, then do that. I have an spreadsheet (I know!) where I can check off who I have contacted and if they responded to me.  I don’t use it as much as I should, but it is helpful in keeping track.  You can also hit up the club’s open mic.  This is a great way of getting in front of people that can get your booked.  Don’t see it as a guarantee that the booker will be there though.  If I can get there, I like to do that because networking and getting to know bookers and what they are looking for is a great way to improve your chances of getting work in the future.  You can also try booking independent shows in clubs during off nights.  Some clubs will let you rent their spot on a night where they are not doing a proper show and you can show them that you have enough pull in the area to be brought back for a weekend.  You can also try this with a specialty show.  We have a show in Spokane called Drink N Debate, and it is put on at the Spokane Comedy Club every month.  The bookers get to see a lot of comedians and can evaluate them for potential work.

The key is being persistent and remembering that it is an uphill battle, but one you will have to go through if you are trying to get into comedy clubs.



Big Idea Comedy Vs. Small Idea Comedy

For lack of better terms, I tend to look at comedy in two very broad terms, that can be elaborated on later.  Big ideas and small ideas.

Big idea comedy, at least in the way that I think of it, are premises that try to tackle the big issues in our society.  Poverty, inequality, women’s issues, race, are what I would call Big ideas.  These are things that people have an idea about, but may not have thought of them in a comedic way.  I think a lot of comedians start out writing material with these ideas in mind. Why?  Because it can be easier to grasp for both the comedian and the audience.  We have been confronted with most of these ideas, so there is not much set up required.  As soon as you start going into the bit, everyone more or less has an understanding of the topic at hand.  This does not mean it is easy. On the contrary, big idea comedy writing is usually the hardest to write effectively.  There is a reason they are ideas that still linger in our society, and there are many different ways to fail an idea you are trying to get out to the audience.  I have sat at hundreds of open mics where the person wants to say something witty about these issues, but instead comes off as offensive or tone deaf.  If that is the idea then, to make it seem as though you have no idea what is going on, then exaggeration is your friend.

Newer comedians tend to want to go  after these topics for another reason, they have seen their favorite comedians knock these topics out of the park.  The problem is that we tend to not see the work that is involved with crafting a joke so it seems easy when in actuality it is quite difficult.  So, how would I advise a new comedian to go after these big ideas?  I wouldn’t.  I would tell them to go after things that others can’t duplicate (this is where small idea comedy comes in).  If they really want to though, I would tell them that saying the same thing that every comedian in the world is already saying is not a good way to differentiate yourself from the masses.  That is why blue collar comedy is what it is.  It says something completely different from what hundreds of other comedians are saying.

Small idea comedy may sound like the opposite, and you would be partly right.  Small ideas, as I am writing them, are things that are happening to you directly.  It is not as big as race relations, but it can be, just as long as it is happening to you.  This seems to be how a lot of comedians progress as they get more comfortable with the way they write. They start off talking about really heavy ideas, and then they look within their own lives to find humor.  To a lot of newer comedians, this seems daunting.  You may be young and thing the things that are happening to you directly would not be funny, but have you sat down and thought about it?  Have you taken time to assess situations in your life that could be funny?  When you start thinking about comedy differently, you start to realize that you can find a lot of good material in smaller ideas.  How does going out in public make you feel?  Do you hate your in-laws?  These are things that do not affect the lives of many, but can still be funny.

How can you get to these small ideas and write effective material about them?  First, think about the things that bother you.  The things that make you laugh.  These are things that a lot of other people may find weird enough to laugh at.  Some of the greatest comedians ever made their names from looking within and being able to articulate it in ways that made others laugh.  What is great about this material is because it is more personal, it is harder for others to duplicate.  This is the material that audiences will remember you for.  Do you have funny stories?  That is small idea comedy!

I hope I was able to get these idea across in an effective manner.  If not please let me know in the comments.  While you are at it, go here to pick up the new book from my friend Andrew Oullette.  Thanks!

Take Charge of The Stage!

The stage is a comedian’s workplace, and territory.  When you are on stage, it should be clear that it is time for a show and you are going to give one to the crowd. Here are some ways you can better take charge on stage.

Look at them! Unless your act requires it, you should be up there looking at the audience.  When I first started, I could not stand to look at them judge me.  What I started doing instead was looking just above eye level.  That way the audience thinks you are looking at them, but you aren’t.  Just staring ahead at the first couple of rows isn’t enough.  You have to look at all of the audience!  Try to connect with everyone in the crowd.  It let’s them know you are not only going to tell them jokes, but connect with them while they laugh.

Look comfortable.  You have to look as though you are in front of a group of friends.  If you are nervous, don’t alert the crowd to that fact (unless it is a part of your act of course).  If your hands shake really bad when you are nervous, place one in your pocket or keep the mic in the mic stand in front of you.  Starting out, I would get so nervous I would get sick.  So, I started out telling a couple of smaller, warm up jokes that would get the crowd laughing and in turn, would calm my nerves.  If your knees get a little wobbly, try pacing a little on stage.  This will get you moving so the audience can’t see how nervous you are and that may help you calm down sooner.

Memorize your material. You don’t look like you are so sure of your stuff if you are constantly looking at the stool.  During an open mic or something, looking at notes is cool because that is what an open mic is for.  Looking at your notes at a paid show looks like you didn’t bother to prepare, and keeps you from physically moving away from your notes.  There are comedians that can bring notes on stage and not make it known that they do.  If you must take notes with you, then you may have to get inventive.  Trying taping it to the side of your water bottle or glass.  Then when you take a drink, you can sneak a peek.  You can also try writing it on the inside of your arm.  Don’t write on your palms because it is much more noticeable to the audience.

Ignore distractions! Part of being an effective comedian is knowing when you should and should not interact with things off stage.  Some things can not be helped.  If someone is getting thrown out of the bar, you have to address it so as to get the attention back on you.  A lot of comedians with not a lot of stage time will want to point out every thing that is happening in the room.  This can throw the show off course and make it seem as though you are easily distracted.  If a glass drops, the audience knows that.  Unless you have a really good joke, just let it be and keep on with your act. Sometimes the audience is the distraction.  Hecklers should be shut down, but you have to analyze the situation and see if it is needed.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a heckler is to ignore them.  If an audience member is responding to you material, sometimes not saying anything back is the best way to keep it from messing with your ongoing show.  If it can not be helped make sure let them know that you heard them.  If this does nothing then your standard heckler response may be needed.  I always advise comedians not to go to hard on a heckler at first because you don’t want the audience to think you are the asshole.  Most audience members want the person talking to shut up, so all you have to do is make it clear that it will not be tolerated.  This will show that you are in charge, and this is your show.  Do not let the inmates run the asylum!

I hope this helps those that have been having trouble getting that edge on stage.  I think these tips will help you get that crowd listening to your dick jokes.

How to Take Advice/Constructive Criticism

Comedians get and give advice all the time.  It is constantly a learning process, and not one person knows everything about comedy.  How you take advice and/or criticism is important if you want to grow.

Advice can come in many forms, but no matter how you get it make sure you understand the source.  I am not saying that only famous people can give advice because a lot of the time it was just blind luck that got them famous!  You have to weight what advice from a certain sources means to you.  I am nowhere near famous, and I have dispensed advice on this blog for three years now.  You reading this are the only ones that will know if what I say applies to you and your career.  If you are headlining clubs every weekend you have no business here.  I will add hardly anything to your overall understanding of the comedy industry.  If you’re an open mic comedian, that is trying to move up the ladder, then maybe you can get something from all of these scribbles.  There is also nothing saying you can’t take bits and pieces of advice and make it something that can help you grow.  If someone tells you, “You need to get on stage more and face the crowd.”, but the persona you are building on stage is one that is stand offish to the audience, then maybe just take “You need to get on stage more.” and leave the rest to the winds.

Criticism is hard for any entertainer.  Who wants to know that you are not making 100% of people laugh? I have been doing this for twelve years, and I still get down whenever I hear someone tell me that.  I will tell you the same thing I told you in the paragraph above:  understand the source! Criticism coming from a drunk person may not be the same as it is coming from your buddy.  Is this person just trying to hurt your feelings?  That is something else to take into account.  I am not saying that anyone that has a criticism about you is a hater, but listen to the criticism.  Is it constructive?  Does it give you a starting point in which you can improve, or is it just tearing you down just for the sake of it? Constructive criticism is almost always trying to negate negativity by instilling a positive aspect. Here is an example:  Someone comes to you after a performance, and says, “I think you should shed some details in your stories.  The end is funny, but it takes to long to get there.” They are telling you that the stories you are telling on stage are too long, but they are giving you a way to change it.  If they approached you and just said, “Your stories suck.” you just have the negative and no way of changing anything for the better.  You also have to understand that there is no way 100% of people are going to find what you do funny.  You are not looking for 100% anyway.  You are looking for enough people that will fill up a room.  I am not saying don’t try to make the person that doesn’t like you laugh, but don’t kill yourself trying to do it.

It is important to note that not all advice and not all criticism is good.  I once had someone after a show tell me, “What you need to do is get on Comedy Central!”  That is advice, but I can not do anything with that!  I had someone just a couple of hours ago say they have never liked my material (the inspiration for this post), until recently.  That’s all they said.  That is criticism, but since they gave me nothing else to go off of, there is nothing I can do to see if it is something I can fix.  There is nothing wrong with going head first with our vision of what you want to do on stage.  The thing is, we are trying to entertain others, and if we are not trying to do the best we can to do that, then we are just amusing our need to be the center of attention when we are on stage.

Mic Etiquette

For 95% of comedians, the mic is the only tool we have on the stage (unless you’re a stool humper, you have two).   The thing that makes our voices carry over the drunk masses should be treated with respect and dignity.  Here’s a bunch of rules I made up.

Stuff about the Stand:  The stand holds the mic, but some comedians use it like a stress ball.  Some comedians don’t like to remove the mic from the stand.  Some fiddle with it and slam it around.  That is fine, but if you notice when you have the mic in the stand, that the noise is travelling to the mic, then you should leave it alone.  It is distracting to hear ever tap on the stand while you are trying to tell  jokes.

Get familiar with the stand:  Is it a normal stand with a base and a straight pole, or is it one of those musician nightmare machines with eight joints and a bunch of knobs?  Well, get there early and give it a look so you don’t look like a fool playing with it.  All you have to do is walk to the stage and look at it.

Mic holding: I am not about to tell you how to hold a damn mic…ok I am.  Hold it somewhere near your mouth.  That is why you are holding a voice amplification device.  If you have it down by your waist, you will not be heard.  Now, sometimes the mic is “hot” (turned up too high) and the sound guy, or bar tender, isn’t around to fix it, so you may have to keep it away from your face, but that is the only case.  Also, if you are holding the ball of the mic, covering most of it, then you will probably sound mumbled. Rappers do it to look cool.  The eight people at this open mic already know you are cool.

The mic is your friend, don’t hurt it!: I don’t know why this is a thing, but people beat the hell out of mics.  They slam em against their legs, they pound on em.  They throw em, and swing em around.  Don’t do that! Microphones, good microphones, like almost every comedy club has, is not cheap.  If you have a bit where you beat a microphone up, then just go to Amazon, and buy a three dollar mic to abuse.  The mic should not be an expense for the club.  This is extra true for bars and other places that may only pull out their mic but every once in awhile.  If you mess that one up, they may not have another one, and you are left with a dead mic.  Look, I get that you saw you favorite comedian beat a microphone up, but they can probably pay to get it replaced.  You probably can’t afford to do a mic drop, so don’t do it.  Mainly because you are not the only one that has to use it later.

It may seem like a silly thing to write about, but people have been asked not to come back to a spot because of how they beat up the mic.  That is like being a janitor and destroying the floor polisher.  Show the people running the place that you have respect for their equipment.  You don’t want that to be the reason you are out of future work.


How To Stand Out In Your Comedy Scene

A lot of comedians think that the best way to stand out is to just be funny.  All you have to do is write material, work it out week after week, and someday…you will be able to host!  Here is the thing that a lot of comedians just can’t understand: That is not the way to stand out in your scene.  I will tell you what does and why?

You may be saying, “Well, Harry, handsome mofo you, why isn’t being funny the best way to stand out?  That is my job, right?” Your job is to be funny, but being funny is just a part of being a comedian.  You have to think about all the stuff that a comedian does before and after they get on a stage and be funny.  You have to get to the show, on time.  You have to perform your time, not going over or under.  If you are gonna be on stage, you should probably not be up there so high that you forget your material, or go after people in the audience.  When you are off stage, it is probably not a good idea to touch the wait staff (unless they consent of course).

If you want to stand out, you have to do what the others around you are not willing to do.  For example, in Spokane, we have a major comedy club and some independent shows.  If you show up to the open mics and show yourself not be a douchebag, it is not that hard to rise to the top of the scene and start working at the club, where you can be sharing the stage with some huge names.  Because in almost every scene I have witness, there are the same groups of people.  You have the entitled people that think that they should get work because they have stuck it out. You have the comedy fans that are more into the idea of comedy then actually creating and performing their own stuff.  Then you have just lazy comedians that will not show up to open mics, and when they do they are still performing the same jokes.  It is not that hard to rise above these guys.  While they are sitting around wondering why no one is booking them, you are making face time with all the other comedians that are trying their best to, just like you, stand out and be noticed by the people that are booking shows.

People always look at me and assume I get work because I make people laugh.  That is so far from the truth.  At first it was because I was available, and that I could go to places at a moments notice.  Later, bookers turned to me because I was dependable. I got to the venue on time and was nice to the staff.  When the manager of the room sees that, they will book you again.  Now, if you suck, you will get some work, but after awhile it will be harder, but the idea here is to get your foot in the door with a lot of these bookers and promoters by being dependable.  Bookers need people to fill time.  Yeah they want a great show, but if the funniest person on the planet only shows up 50% of the time, then there is no show.

Look comedy is still hard, if you have read any of this blog you know that, the thing is to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success, and that means getting out and being seen and not being a horrible garbage person.

Comedic Styles: Current Events

I didn’t know what to title this article.  Is it a philosophy or voice? I have no clue.  I will be doing a series on styles of comedians.  This week we talking about the comedian that slings current events.  I don’t know the proper term, if there is one, I just know that this is an distinct style from other forms of comedy.  With all of these articles, we will go over the pros and cons.  Lets get to it!

The style of slinging jokes about current events is usually in the realm of late night TV.  So think of all the late shows and late late shows and you have a good idea.  Some of the best in this style are mainly late night guys, guys that are telling jokes almost every night.


This style revolves around being able to write jokes about current events (duh).  So comedians that use this style are always writing and usually can get better, faster than the comedian that have a set that really never changes over time.

Comedians using this style always seem in the thick of things because they are always talking about things that recently happened.  This gives the audience a sense that the jokes that are being told are fresh.


One of the biggest issues with this style, is that some comedians who want to tell jokes like this may not know the time limit on what is current.  I think about it like this:  If it is a national story that is ongoing then you can keep going with it.  If it is a weird news story that no one has heard of, then it is best to walk away from it.

If you are not writing up new material often, your set can seem stale.  If you are talking about a thing that happened years ago, it looks as though that is when you stopped writing jokes.

This may not be a viable style for comedians that write a lot, but don’t get to perform the jokes often.  The reason for this is limited feedback to see if the way you are writing is connecting with the audience.

Conclusion: This style always seems hip, until you see someone pulling out old ass stories.  The best way to circumvent this is by writing it in a way that it does seem like it was ripped from the headlines.  Don’t use opening lines like, “I was reading the news the other day.” or “Have you heard this story?”  Those trigger the audience to assume this is something that you just came up with.